TIME Internet

The Surprising Reasons Men Love the Kim Kardashian Game

Everyone wants to be Kim K.

You already know that everyone and her sister and her aunt and her mother is playing Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, the mobile game which has reportedly brought in hundreds of millions in revenue and was released in a desktop version this week. What you may not know is that her brother and uncle and dad are playing, too.

Though Kim K. is built around the pursuit of traditionally feminine activities – clothes, dating, modeling – men can be just as taken with it as women. I got my first inkling of this when I told two different male friends that I was trying to pinpoint what was so fascinating about the game, and gave them a little précis of how it worked. Their reactions were more or less identical: “Huh. Weird. Sounds a little boring. I’m downloading it right now.”

This got me curious: what about this modeling-and-celebrity game appealed so urgently to men? I emailed and chatted with eight guys – most straight, some gay, most in their 20s and 30s (ranging from E-list to A-list in the game’s rankings) about why they played Kim K.

The game doesn’t market itself specifically to women – you can play as either sex, dating either sex. Mark, a 29-year-old poet and teacher, says he played a woman in the game (named Mark) specifically because he’s a man: “I have always been interested in bucking expectations with gender roles — I’m a chubby white guy with a beard, but I’ve also done drag, sung Madonna at karaoke nights, etc.”

's character, , rocks a swimsuit ensemble made popular by Kim Kardashian herself.
Mark Cugini’s character, Mark Cugini, rocks a swimsuit ensemble made popular by Kim Kardashian herself. Courtesy of Mark Cugini

Andrew, one of the friends I introduced to the game, made the same choice for the opposite reason: the male gaze. “I expected to spend a lot of time looking at my avatar on screen,” he said, “and I like looking at women more than at men.”

Greg Seals, a 22-year-old writer, played as a guy and started out designing his character to dress like him, but “somehow it devolved into this douchey-looking L.A. guy who is probably closeted, works out at Equinox way too much, and would be mean to me in real life. In essence, I’ve created a monster.”

But though the casting is gender-blind, the plot, such as it is, is arranged around posing for pictures, changing your clothes, and going on dates (though often just to be seen with someone who has more social capital than you). These are, of course, issues of interest to the population at large; yes, for the most part we aren’t models, but most of us engage in romance and almost all of us wear clothes. But these subjects, the clothing especially, are often pigeonholed as being primarily women’s concerns. This alone should guarantee that Kim K. is seen as a “girl” pastime – the game is very, very into clothes, alerting you when you attain each level that you have new outfits available. One of the big enticements to spend real-people money is “K-stars,” silver coins that can be exchanged for new clothes, shoes, or hair. The new duds can be very, very tempting.

That’s true for the men as well. Far from writing Kim K. off as some kind of ladies’ dress-up game, most of the guys I talked to mentioned the costuming as a draw. In their regular lives, men (especially straight men, like the majority of my correspondents) are rarely rewarded for fashion skills, and they’re socialized early on to devalue most sartorial concerns as “girly.” Some of them, at least, are grateful for a context like Kim K. that brings dress-up back to the fore.

Don’t believe me? You should meet writer and recruiter Kevin Fanning’s character Kloaca (“It was the first word with the ‘K’ sound that came to my mind. I realized later that a cloaca isn’t what I thought it was, and that the name was actually kind of gross, but it was too late to do anything about it”). Kevin changes her outfits at least once a day, “usually pants and tees for the day and dresses for the evening. I’m aware that this is insane.” Clothes aren’t a big concern of Kevin’s in real life, but they’re his primary goal in the game; he puts Kloaca through her modeling paces just so he can “make that paper” to buy better outfits.

Kevin Fanning says he had to save up "forever" to afford his character Kloaca's turquoise pixie haircut.
Kevin Fanning says he had to save up “forever” to afford his character Kloaca’s turquoise pixie haircut. Courtesy of Kevin Fanning

But you don’t have to be that attentive to your fashionable Tamagotchi to appreciate Kim K.’s offerings. When I asked Mark what he thought of the available outfits, he sighed, “Ugh. The best. I need the friggin’ space pants ASAP.” (Mark’s character is an A-lister who has climbed all the way to #1 in the fame rankings, so he sees more clothing choices than punters like me; I don’t even know what “space pants” are.)

Matt, 39, who’s playing as a man, is disappointed that his outfit choices aren’t more diverse: “I think it suffers the same thing that male fashion does generally, in that there is only so far you can go with some sort of trousers and shirt.” Greg had similar issues: “I was hoping that if I played as a guy I could wear some of the crazy outfits, masks, and Givenchy Kanye wears.”

Most of the fellas agree that this game kind of sucks as a game, although game developer Matt called the gameplay “decent enough.” And yet, even when you’re bored, it’s somehow hard to walk away. As Greg put it, “All you’re doing is sitting there and mindlessly tapping the screen. There’s not even any strategy, really. But there’s something so addicting about every time I get one of the ‘feed updates’ and watch my fan count go up and my ranking rise. I don’t want to know what that means about me as a human.”

“The game is pretty much the shallowest thing I’ve ever encountered and yet I can’t really help myself,” agreed Alex, 25, who says he got hooked after his girlfriend downloaded the game onto his phone while he slept.

In other words, men play Kim K. because they like the dress-up, because there’s something appealing about the fantasy of a meteoric rise to fame, and because it’s addictive in spite of the dull gameplay. These are the same reasons I play it. Men are not immune to the appeal of beautiful objects, charmed lives, and pretending to be a rich, beloved semi-princess. They’re just not usually encouraged to value those things. Kim K. provides a space for dudes to engage in pursuits typically sidelined as feminine, whether those pursuits are valuable or vacant.

And that’s part of the point. Fantasy games like Kim K. allow you to try on the trappings of another person – someone whose looks, goals, achievements, even gender may be very different from yours – in a simple and protected way. “It’s a safe sandbox for vanity role play,” said Justin, the other friend I introduced to the game. (It’s amazing, really, that both of them are still talking to me.) In this, he says, it’s not that different from other computer games where you play a customizable character: “Up to your teenage years, you get to play a lot with identity as expressed in your clothing, but later in life you lose that freedom. Video games give you a safe space to tinker with that – you can be a man, you can be a woman, you can be a space alien or an orc, and you can wear the clothes that express that persona.” What appeals to men about Kim K. is, ultimately, the same thing that appeals to women: the ability to play, superficially, symbolically, with identity and self-presentation. Men and women who build a character in a game like Kim K. aren’t looking for real insight, but it’s no coincidence that dress-up is the biggest draw.

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood isn’t intended to let men know what women’s lives are like. It’s not intended to let us mundane people know what celebrities’ lives are like, either. But for a little while, it does let you try on their clothes.

 

TIME society

Not All Men: A Brief History of Every Dude’s Favorite Argument

The "not all men" defense against feminist arguments is infuriating and unhelpful, but it also represents a weird kind of progress

On April 10, artist Matt Lubchansky updated his popular webcomic series, Please Listen To Me, with a new comic called “Save Me.” It features a presumably mild-mannered fellow in a polo shirt who spots the “Man Signal” and barrels into a phone booth to emerge as a fedora-masked Not-All-Man, “defender of the defended” and “voice for the voiceful.” He catches the whiff of misandry in the air — a pink-haired woman in the middle of saying “I’m just sick of how men…” — and smashes through a plate-glass window to play devil’s advocate.

Matt Lubchansky (listen-tome.com)

It’s a sharp, damning satire of a familiar kind of bad-faith argument, the one where a male interlocutor redirects a discussion about sexism, misogyny, rape culture, or women’s rights to instead be about how none of that is his fault. And it struck a nerve.

The comic was retweeted and reblogged tens of thousands of times. Nerd hero Wil Wheaton, comedian Paul F. Tompkins, and comics artist Matt Fraction were among its Tumblr boosters. Within a few days, science fiction writer John Scalzi, who frequently wades into feminist discussion, ranted about the “not all men” defense and followed up by posting the comic. Clearly, Not-All-Man is the antifeminist antihero for our times.

But his origin story is shrouded in mystery. Certainly Lubchansky’s comic was not the first humorous deployment of the term. For instance, two weeks before the comic came out, a “Not All Men” Tumblr made the rounds. It featured a handful of movie scenes enhanced with a “not all men” speech bubble — the shark from Jaws jumps in a boat to play devil’s advocate, the chestburster from Alien emerges from a man’s torso to explain that you’re overgeneralizing. And a few days before that, Twitter user @a_girl_irl posted an image of the Kool-Aid man crashing through the wall to deliver the catch phrase.

Before its meteoric rise as an object of mockery in the early parts of 2014, “not all men” had a past life as an object of frustration. For feminist bloggers it was a classic derail, a bad-faith argument used to shift the focus of a discussion instead of engaging with it.

“I know. Not all men are rapists. Not all men abuse their significant others. Not all men actively oppress women. I get it. Moving on,” wrote blogger elledeevee at Bitchtopia in July 2013.

But while it was clearly a source of irritation by mid-2013, and ripe for parody last month, “not all men” is curiously absent from earlier compilations of derailing arguments, including the ever-popular bingo cards that people who write about activist subjects on the Internet often make.

Of course, this doesn’t mean people weren’t not-all-menning it up before 2013. As early as 1985, author Joanna Russ expressed a familiar weariness in her feminist love story On Strike Against God:

…that not all men make more money than all women, only most; that not all men are rapists, only some; that not all men are promiscuous killers, only some; that not all men control Congress, the Presidency, the police, the army, industry, agriculture, law, science, medicine, architecture, and local government, only some.

But the absence of “not all men” on Internet bingo cards is a striking example of how the phrase, before it rocketed to prominence, went almost unnoticed in online arguments about activist subjects. If a feminist blogger made a derailment bingo card in April of 2013, “not all men” might be the free space in the center. But before last year, the place of prominence currently afforded to the phrase “not all men” was instead held by “what about the men?” and “patriarchy hurts men too” — pleas for inclusion, not for exemption.

Without the assistance of a trained Redditologist, it may not be possible to track down the source of this shift. Most likely “not all men” erupted in several places on the Internet simultaneously and independently, like the invention of calculus — an idea whose time had come. I asked Matt Lubchansky, the Not-All-Man comic’s creator, if he remembered where he first heard it; he told me that in his experience it arose from nowhere, or more accurately, from everywhere.

“I don’t recall a very specific instance so much as it was sort of everywhere, very suddenly!” Lubchansky wrote in an email. “But instead of this being something with a single origin, i think this phrase is unique among this kind of stuff because it was actually coming from the mouths of these dopes. Like some dummy would for REAL be coming at people talking about racial or gender equality stuff, waving their arms and saying ‘UM ACTUALLY NOT ME!’”

It’s true that previous derailment favorites like “patriarchy hurts men too” were paraphrases in a way that “not all men” is not. The demand is the same — “please move me to the center of your discussion” — but “not all men” is, in many cases, straight from the horse’s mouth; even an amateur Reddit spelunker can turn up plenty of sulky or defensive uses of the phrase.

“Not all men” also differs from “what about the men?” and other classic derails because it acknowledges that rape, sexism, and misogyny are real issues — just not, you know, real issues that the speaker is involved with in any way. The “not all men” man, at least in some cases, agrees with you and is perfectly willing to talk about how terrible those other guys are, just as soon as we get done establishing that he himself would never be such a cad. It’s infuriating and unhelpful, but in a way it represents a weird kind of progress.

Lubchansky agreed that the shift from “but what about men’s problems” to “not all men are like that” paralleled his own gradual development into a decent human. Perhaps men arguing on the Internet (though not all men!) follow a developmental path that echoes an individual man growing a social conscience, which in a very simplified form goes something like this:

  1. Sexism is a fake idea invented by feminists
  2. Sexism happens, but the effect of “reverse sexism” on men is as bad or worse
  3. Sexism happens, but the important part is that I personally am not sexist
  4. Sexism happens, and I benefit from that whether or not I personally am sexist
  5. Sexism happens, I benefit from it, I am unavoidably sexist sometimes because I was socialized that way, and if I want to be anti-sexist I have to be actively working against that socialization

Is it possible “not all men” rose to prominence when the level of online discourse moved from stage 2 to stage 3?

The Not-All-Man hero and his minions are paralyzingly obsessed with protecting their own self-concept, to a degree that prevents them from engaging in sincere discussion. But this contrast — between “not all men” and earlier derailing tactics — suggests that maybe they also represent a small and subtle shift towards good-faith argumentation.

Not all men will make that shift, ultimately. But some is better than none.

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